Celebration of Samantha by: Phil Kelly, Samantha's Uncle

I speak of Samantha, my niece, that beautiful ray of sunshine, on behalf of her dad, my brother Keith.

Like many of us, Keith only recently discovered Samantha's thoughtful, philosophical, sometimes comical and sometimes zen-like twitter comments. As close as the two of them were, even he was pleasantly surprised and deeply moved by these little glimpses of the world through Samantha's eyes.

I'll give you one right away. She said "Paint the world bright." Boy did she ever.

I'll quote others of Samantha's tweets over the next couple of minutes.

Keith is a National Park Ranger, and Samantha was born in Carlsbad, New Mexico when he was serving there. She spent much of her early childhood in Joshua Tree National Park in California. That is where her parents came to first see her adventurous spirit as she climbed huge boulders during hikes, and thoroughly enjoyed exploring the world around her. Also, when she was little she was able to visit and explore Yosemite, Sequoia, the Grand Canyon, the Smokies, and the Everglades. All the while it turns out that she was developing her awe for the beauty in her world that she appreciated so much.

Her adventurous spirit extended to food - she was a real foodie. She would try anything and everything - and scarf it down quickly, I'm told. She LOVED sushi, and tried any and all ethnic foods, because she said, "she didn't want to miss out on an experience."

Here is an insightful Samantha food tweet that you can all appreciate, she said: "I hate when you're sick and your tastebuds get all messed up."

And another: "Chocolate is amazing!"

Yet another: "Chipotle and Panera in one day...what a great day!"

Finally, a shout out to Jack who gave her the material for this classic: "You know, corn bread is really...well, 'corny."

As Samantha grew, it was obvious that she was gifted with terrific athletic ability. We uncles remember when even as a tiny little thing, she could out throw, out catch, and out hit most anyone her size.

Pretty much anything she tried, she was very good at it.

And not just athletics...Samantha's mom and dad and grandparents have numerous examples of young Samantha's whimsical and beautiful artwork.

As we all know, she grew into an awesome volleyball player. It was hard to believe that this angelic-looking wisp of a girl could be such a wildcat on the court. But that's what defined Samantha...she gave everything her best.

Keith has a volleyball with the number 586 on it. When Samantha was in middle school and just developing as a player, they would hit the ball back and forth in the yard. This particular ball was from a memorable exchange when the two of them volleyed back and forth 586 times before stopping. Now 586 is not Samantha's favorite big number, 50 bajillion, but it's still pretty darned good.

The story reminds me of another short and simple Samantha tweet: "Strive for perfection."

Not only did Samantha give everything her best, she saw the best in everything and everybody. She tweeted: "We don't realize how great we have it. We need to appreciate life and cherish everything. We're truly blessed each and every day."

and: "You may not have the best of everything, but you can make the best of everything."

Speaking of seeing the best in things...Bedtime was one of those simple somethings that Samantha could appreciate...so she tweeted: " love how great it feels once you get into bed.

And: "I always stay up later than I wish; then when I wake up I think, man I wish I would'e went to sleep earlier.

Samantha really wanted a cool car.

Here's a tweet on that..."I better have a good job when I'm older, cause I'm gonna want a nicie car.

Yet when she was given her old beat manual transmission Ford Escort, she was delighted to have it.

She liked folks with different points of view too...She said: "I think it's so cool how everyone's different. It makes life more interesting."

She loved being around her family and her friends. She had that awesome smile, and she had a certain magnetism...people wanted to be around her. I think it's fair to say that she tried to be a best friend to everyone. She demonstrated her love for others in many ways including things like Link Crew at school, and what she herself described as a life-changing experience...Her participation in a youth mission trip to Carolina.

I'm sure many here were touched by her love as she attended and completed high school...the Link Crew, volleyball, tennis, dances, 50 bajillion friends, and preparing for college.

A theme that Keith heard from many adults this week spoke volumes about her. When Samantha would go to a friend's house to visit and to do whatever it is that teens do, as most of the other kids would disappear into the rec room or wherever the gathering was to be, often Samantha would take some time to visit with the parents and share a little of her sunshine with them. One particular family across town in Smithsburg cherished her visits and came to consider her much like part of the family...the parents, the son, the daughter...the whole family feels this way.

We know, however, that she really had only one bestest of best friends, her brother Jack. Samantha and Jack's relationship was a model for sisters and brothers everywhere. Like Samantha, we must love those closest to us, and cherish the times we have.

I need to share this story of her thoughtfulness...At last Fall's homecoming dance Samantha was on the homecoming court. When it was time for the Dad/daughter dance, Samantha got to choose the song. She chose the Beatles' "In My Life." Now Keith is a child of the 70s and a bit dance-challenged, so she told him that she picked an "older song" and a short one...so that he would like it, but he wouldn't have to dance for very long.

Samantha made so much out of her 17 years. She lived fully, and had one heckuva run. She had tremendous positive impact on those around her. She was a wonderful daughter, sister, granddaughter, niece, cousin, and friend. She told the whole world herself that she appreciated all of the things...and all of us...who were privileged to know her. She tweeted: "Everything in my life has made me the person I am. I wouldn't change it for the world."

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